There’s a lot of information – and misinformation – out there about the gaming market. Some guy posting on a forum that he “knows” that Game X has a million active players or Game Y cost $50 million to make is about as credible as my saying that I’m descended from French royalty.

(Actually, I think I am, and that I can prove it, but that’s a topic for another time.)

I’ve recently spent some time perusing the SuperData Research site. It certainly looks nice and professional, and its methodology page hints at the quality of its data, but I’d be lying if I said that I had complete confidence in its numbers.

Regardless of my misgivings, there’s probably at least some truth in the data the site presents, so, accompanied by an extra-large grain of salt, let’s take a look at what SuperData has to say about the gaming market.

According to SuperData’s most recent report, for May 2013, digital games amassed $808 million in revenue for the month, with F2P MMOs accounting for $181 million of that. By comparison, pay-to-play MMOs accounted for “only” $88 million in revenue, spread across 6.6 million players.

Before you say, “World of Warcraft has over eight million players, so that’s automatically BS,” keep in mind that roughly half of WoW’s players are overseas. Though not specifically stated anywhere I can find, I assume that SuperData’s research only covers North America, or perhaps just the United States, where WoW’s subscriber base is closer to three million.

If those numbers are accurate, it spells out what we might have already guessed at but at a greater magnitude that we, or at least I, thought. Revenue-wise, SuperData says that F2P gaming is 206% better than P2P gaming, which I assume covers not only traditional subscription games, but buy-to-play games like Guild Wars 2, The Secret World, and Defiance.

On the one hand, it’s not that hard to believe. Those games, along with sub-only games like World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and Final Fantasy XI, probably represent the bulk of the non-F2P MMO revenue in North America. Compare that to the sheer volume of F2P games out there, which probably include not-quite-MMO behemoths like League of Legends and World of Tanks (which are both counted as MMOs according to a chart in SuperData’s Market Movers report), and maybe it’s not that hard to believe.

Another note in SuperData’s report is the tidbit that states that the F2P conversion rate is “consistently above 15%.” Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi has said on multiple occasions that the conversion rate in World of Tanks is around 20-30%, which would put his game ahead of the curve. Meanwhile, Riot Games President Marc Merrill said that he doesn’t know his game’s conversion rate and wouldn’t tell if he did.

Even if SuperData’s numbers aren’t totally reliable, and if they includes pseudo-MMO titles, they’re probably enough in the ballpark that we can make the statement that free-to-play gaming is bigger in North America than buy-to-play gaming – probably by a wide margin, dollar-wise. And who would have thought that would be the case just three years ago?

By Jason Winter

34 Readers Commented

Join discussion
  1. Bic Boi on July 13, 2013

    Generally speaking P2P games that are developed as P2P from the start offer much higher quality compared to a game that was developed as F2P from the get-go. F2P can be big all it wants–in the end Quality matters, not Quantity. All the games that are quality and F2P were formerly P2P. Just goes to show F2P games are garbage.

    Oh and before any of you get wise and come at me–I speak of games developed AS Free-to-Play. I speak of it as a mindset, not a payment method. Games made with the intent of being sub-only have proven to be vastly superior quality compared to games made with the intent of being free with a cash shop. This is fact.

  2. Balan on July 13, 2013

    U guys still pay to play even on free ones xD whats wrong with u cant just have fun without spending your money over something that today is and tomorrow may close and wat about those cash shops u cant play it normal to understand the dificulty of the game ??? i prefer to spend my money on something else than a GAME….

  3. capoe on July 12, 2013

    I have never played a f2p mmorpg that did not suck imo…even lotro(not free past lv 20unless you love to grind/farm for weeks) sucks.

    Now i have played a few shooters that are f2p that i liked…planetside2..

    • Capoe on July 12, 2013

      also…their is no such thing as f2p…the f2p games have cash shops..that sell bags..etc..also if you like the game you will pay more then 15bucks a month …not every month but you will spend more money in a f2p game then les say WOW..anyday.

  4. Atonal on July 10, 2013

    Wow this is stupid. You can not go off of this at ALL. Most F2P games in NA are international. You’ve got a lot of gamers from around the world spending money. Also, F2P is NOT the way of the future. Well it is the future… of death for the mmorpg scene.
    The reason why F2P games make so much money is that there are people stupid enough to spend money on broken cash shops. People that complain about P2P games end up spending so much more for so little on cash shop items that is basically gambling away your money. You also have people spending money cause they can afford to spend thousands to gain advantages over the people that don’t spend as much. In the end, people spend more money in an F2P game than they would of a P2P game cause their stupid with their money. They have this silly notion of spending a little bit this week, and then spending a little bit more next week. But add it all up, and it ends up being so much more money spent than on a P2P game.

  5. Retributi0n on July 10, 2013

    Oh also, my previous comment is just one example. First one that popped in my head and I felt it was a good one 🙂

  6. Retibuti0n on July 10, 2013

    You can’t base which is BETTER off of numbers, you can only base which has been more successful in a certain time frame. That doesn’t amount to something being better, as in better quality, better mechanics, better graphics and so on.

    In my opinion, subscription games are better. I feel like in these F2P games, there is nothing to earn. Want to be the first to get a rare mount? Nope, someone already bought it in the cash shop. This is one thing WoW has done right, countless rare mounts. When they are current, you actually have to earn them. Past rare mounts are obviously easier to get now, but you still have to do something other than type your credit card info in to get it. This leaves F2P games with Achievements and achievements alone, sure they could still put rare mounts in, but a lot of people will just say “screw it, I’m not going to earn it, I am just going to buy something just as cool in the shop”.

    I understand not everyone would do these things, but like I said, it is my opinion that Subscription based games are better, IF DONE RIGHT of course.

  7. gygyg on July 10, 2013

    please a code for nfs world

  8. Joost van Dreunen on July 10, 2013

    Hi Jason,

    Nice piece! There’s not a lot of industry writers out there that understand the space as well. As you point out, a big part of it takes place outside of the scope of analysts and journalists alike, because privately held companies don’t share any information.

    One question though: why the reservation about our numbers?

    Hollar back.

    Joost
    Co-Founder & CEO, SuperData

  9. Shapoopi on July 10, 2013

    F2P is for the now. Years from now say 5 or so, something else will be the new MMO thing.

  10. OMJesus on July 10, 2013

    I have been playing many f2p games and I must say this.Yes they outnumber p2p games.But that is meaningless when a majority of them are lacking in quality.Of course there are a few gems in the f2p market but for the most part it is just an ocean of coals.Some p2p games also lack in quality but for the most part they either get refined(FFXIV:ARR) and get better or they sell out to a company that can do more with it.

    I for one have grown tired of the usual crap that f2p mmos are covered in and would much rather put in $15 a month and get access to everything over having to spend $100 a month to be competitive(I’m looking at you Allods,Flyff,Grand Fantasia,Mu Online,and so many others)

  11. aooppp on July 10, 2013

    good. most p2p mmos are not worth $15 a month. $15 for horrible slow leveling experience than max level grind grind grind. no thx.

  12. Ax on July 10, 2013

    The better they are, more people will join and income will be higher.

  13. hardmode on July 10, 2013

    dude… watch out your writing. are you high or something?

  14. kkk on July 10, 2013

    I havent paid for my two EVE ONLINE accounts for years!!!!!! How can you say it is P2P ???

    Yes you can buy game extension time and other goodies for $$$ but you can also purchase same things with ingame money!!

  15. Sergio on July 9, 2013

    Sush it already dumbass, just because you have your own parents who fill your mouth and your pockets with your very stupid wishes doesn’t mean that everyone has parents like that. Free-To-Play get’s alot of revenue due to the fact that people don’t want to play 20$ to play for a month and then feel obligated to continue to play!

    • Razer on July 9, 2013

      It’s called having a job. If you can’t afford to pay for a video game and are raging over it on the internet, then chances are your priorities are not in order. Who’s the real dumbass here?

      • thatguy on July 9, 2013

        or maybe his priorities are in order because he would rather save that $20 a month and spend it on something absolutely necessary while still having fun playing f2p games and raging at sub games 😀

        • Golgo28 on July 10, 2013

          Just ignore Razor and Hykova they are trolls simple as that.For two guys that talk alot of trash about free to play gaming.They spend a good amount of tume on a site devoted to f2p mmos.Anyone that says paying a monthly fee for a game means you get a better game is full of it.WoW is filled with nothing but little kids,most of which are broke.Just cause someones mommy and daddy pay for their sub doesn’t mean the kid isn’t broke.I’ve found far more mature communities on several f2p titles then most p2p mmos.Does eve online have a good community?yes but it’s a niche title and only appeals to a certain group of mmo players.FFXI while was huge fun before it’s slow decline into a cake walk of a game.Now most of it’s subs are people with two accounts so they can dual box.And unfortunately many of them are elitist snobs that think because they reached max level on several jobs in under a month makes them hardcore.

          Well it doesn’t.I quit for awhile after wings of the goddess and came back and leveled all my remaining jobs to cap in a day each.And a day for me on ffxi was about 4 hrs a day.As for WoW besides the fact blizz has repeatedly nerfed the game making it so easy even a noob with no mmo experience can run heroics and succeed.Then there is the pokemon ripoff that they added which was uninteresting as watching paint dry.But log in to WoW and all you see is foul mouth little kids(at least I hope it’s kids cause if adults are acting like the dumbasses i saw on wow are world is fu*ked.)spouting things that only the WBC would say in public.Where as on EQ2 and Aion I have encountered not only some of the most helpful gamers ever but also some of the friendliest mmo players you could ever want to meet. And games like Warframe are being updated not only with bug fixes but content on far more regular time frame then any p2p mmo.And non of these games ever made me feel I had to spend money to play.Where on WoW you have to pay 15 bucks a month and buy the expansions and even then you don’t get the whole xpac up front.instead you have to wait til blizz releases it a little bit at a time.So really your paying a bunch of money and you don’t get what you pay for until months down the road.Hell at least if I buy an xpac for ddo or lotro I get the full xpac when i pay for it not months down the road.Truth is most mmo players that still stick to p2p mmos are just to afraid to accept change.Oh btw of WoW’s 8 mil subs 5 mil are in asia and 3 mil of those are gold sellers.The other 2 mil are korean players that will always support blizz cause koreans are obsessed with bizz’s games.But most mmo player in the states were kids playing them years ago and grew up and now have bills and families to care for so 15 to 20 bucks a month for a mmo is out of the question.And only a spoiled child would go and say,”it’s called a job get one if 15 dollars is to much to pay for a game.”That’s right a spoiled child that has never truly lived in the real world or had to support children of their own.

          • tolshortte on July 10, 2013

            while you have some good points like those about Warframe, I don’t agree with everything you said.

            I have always enjoyed P2P communities a lot better. Less gold spammers, less cheaters, and less general negativity spamming the chat. Granted there are some bad experiences to be had in every game, but to think F2P is better is just silly.

            I have a family, have kids, and 20 bucks a month is nothing. I promise I spend more than that on trips to movies, taking them to different activities etc a week. In fact, one activity would pay for 5 months of game time easily. To a family every dollar is definitely accounted for, but if you think 20 bucks is a deal breaker for a parent to provide quality entertainment for themselves you are confused. As it was said above, if 20 bucks will make or break you, you have bigger problems to worry about than game costs.

            I play Warframe and STO atm. Neither game ‘required’ money to play them which I do enjoy, but ive spent money on both. Nothing in life is truly free, and if you don’t support the games you play then they wont last as long as you may want.

            There are a few F2P titles that are Ok. But I agree that F2P is pulling the industry down a bit. But that’s just my opinion. To me it’s naïve to think that you could possibly get the same quality and mass content for free as b2p or p2p games USED to offer. Also I do prefer paying a flat rate once a month for a whole game vs. getting nickel and dimed for every little thing. Just a preference.

          • Razer on July 12, 2013

            Just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean they’re trolling. I don’t hate F2P as a whole. Though as you might have guessed already most of them do fail to impress me and I find the tactics that many of them use to get players to pay up to be utterly repulsive. I come through here because I probably wouldn’t be aware of gems like Path of Exile if it weren’t for this site and over time I am seeing gradual improvement in F2P gaming.

            I might have been caught up in the moment and overly harsh. For that I apologize. I failed to notice Hykova’s somewhat offensive response to DinoLove. Sergio’s post looked like an attack out of the blue for little reason other than disagreeing with Hykova’s preference for pay2play games.

            For the record, I have no interest in sub MMOs. I dislike them for a similar reason why many F2P games rub me the wrong way: they are horrible time and money sinks.

  16. Hykova on July 9, 2013

    “SuperData says that F2P gaming is 206% better than P2P gaming, which I assume covers not only traditional subscription games, but buy-to-play games like Guild Wars 2, The Secret World, and Defiance.”

    Incorrect. It is not better. It is free. There is a very very big difference.

    There are only a handful of AAA free to play titles that have minimal replay value IMO. Free games just don’t have the quality pay to play games do regardless of how pretty they might look now.

    • asn0304 on July 10, 2013

      I assume the word “better” in that statement meant better revenue for the Publishers. Nobody is talking about the quality of games. We’re talking about how much these games earn for their makers/publishers.

    • M-16 on July 10, 2013

      you need to understand that most of the F2P developers can’t enjoy huge bugdet like the AAA developers. Therefore most developers prefer to stick to one game hoping people will play their games for several years (for example, world of tanks is played for 2 years, alliance of valiant arms is played for 4-5 years), unlike AAA games which will lose the fun factor in a year after they went public and the AAA developers could make a sequel or move on to another game.

  17. DinoLove on July 9, 2013

    Awesome Post Jason!

    But I would be lieing if I said I dont miss the days where I only had to pay $7-15 a month an get the whole game for free.. Its hard to explain but I feel like a monthly fee regulated my spending on MMOs. Cause Im pretty sure I spend somewhere around $70-80 a month in Cash shops simply cause I can, And not cause the game is Pay-2-Win but cause theres never a down side to it lol.

    • Hykova on July 9, 2013

      I would much rather pay for a game and get the whole thing and have a slightly more educated population than have a bunch of broke kids that run around doing whatever they want. I think all the free to play is starting to get old. Games are getting easier and easy to acquire. This is good and bad. You get a lot of gamers, but 80% of them suck at games or are literally ten years old.

      and the brazilians. … *cringe*

      • waleedd on July 16, 2013

        whats wrong with 10 year olds

    • -.- on July 9, 2013

      This is just the typical human thinking.

      “$7-15 a month an get the whole game for free”

      What makes u think u get the game for free after you have paid 7-15$ a month of it?

      • ArcticUrsa on July 9, 2013

        Because most subscription games don’t/didn’t have cash shops for anything more than entirely decorative items.

    • Jason Winter on July 11, 2013

      Thanks!

      It certainly depends on the game, but I certainly think a lot of the hand-wrangling over the “true cost” of a F2P MMO comes from the gamer mentality of “IT MUST BE MINE!” Don’t take this the wrong way, but… have you tried *not* spending $70-$80 per month? 🙂

      I’ve played lots of F2P games and probably haven’t paid that much in any of them. I’m OK with the “slow advance” in games like WoT, LoL, and PS2, and I can’t comprehend how anyone would feel like they need to pay $70-$80 a month on those games. (SOE did set me up with some goodies for PS2, admittedly, but it was probably equivalent to about that much, and I haven’t felt a need to pay any more since the game came out in November; I’ve never received any bonuses from Wargaming or Riot.)

      Granted, some games “force” you to pay like that to advance — so I don’t play those games. Just try not spending money for a while and see how much you enjoy it! 🙂

  18. RyuKaiser on July 9, 2013

    Here’s hoping more games jump ship… and do it well, like RIFT did. Frankly, I’d love to see games like FFXIV go F2P, but so long as companies cling to the old ways desperately, they likely won’t see much in terms of good money. Still, some companies just shouldn’t do F2P, like EA and SWTOR, which I would highly suspect would influence Squeenix were they to finally jump ship.

    • Hykova on July 9, 2013

      More like, here’s to hoping a good free to play gam actually comes out some day instead of all these cookie cutter dollar bin specials that keep your attention for a week.

    • Eviil on July 10, 2013

      I hope Square Enix does not take the free to play route for any final fantasy series. They have a lot of money from created games with their staffs creativity. Kingdom hearts series, Final Fantasy RPG series and more on both vita and the PS3. If they do make a Final Fantasy free to play, we will expect a rundown version of it. They have already part-take in many free to play games which is alright. The silent subscribers that will stay for realm reborn are many and they love their community. Hell, an entire revamp of the system takes a lot of money and careful planning to advertise that they WILL make the game better and so far, it is good. Can’t wait for release and content to come.

      • NobleNerd on July 15, 2013

        Here Here !!

        I for one am glad that SE has stated they will not make FFXIV F2P. FFXI has lasted 11+ years now as P2P. Even though I left WoW a long time ago I would not wish F2P on it either. When you do the math and calculate out what you get as a subscriber verses what similar stuff in F2P you pay at least 3x more for similar features/items. Give me my $14.99 a month and the great features and service that goes with it and I am happy!

HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY?